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HARPER'S ISLAND
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Reviewed by: JimmyO

Directed by: Various

Starring:
Elaine Cassidy
Christopher Gorham
Katie Cassidy

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about
Trish Wellington and Henry Dunn are getting married. The celebration is to be held on Harper’s Island, a place where the two spent much of their youth, and a place where several people were brutally murdered seven years ago. But once they arrive, along with their family and friends, the guest seem to be dying off… one by one.
Is it good movie?
Imagine taking an hour and a half horror film, expanding the mystery and the murders, and adding a bit of drama and soap. And then imagine turning it into a thirteen week television event on CBS. Honestly, when I looked at the DVD case, I had no idea what to expect from Harper’s Island, and I didn’t have high expectations. But it is what I do, I review DVD’s, so I took this monster on and was shocked at what I found. While I thought the first episode was slightly engaging and even kind of creepy, I was still unprepared for what was to come as the kills seemed too intense for freakin‘ CBS. Two murders took place on “Whap” (each episode is named after how the victim is killed) and they were so damn inventive, I was very curious to see where it was going to go. One of the murders takes place on a bridge and I’ve never seen anything quite like it on network television.

After “Whap”, “Crackle”, “Ka-Blam” and “Bang”, I noticed that I couldn’t stop watching this horror thriller. And one by one, I witnessed some insanely awesome kills (although mostly blood free… CBS people) and a bunch of charismatic performances… let me tell ya, it was thrilling. The beauty of watching this limited series on DVD is that you don’t have to wait for the next episode. This is a very entertaining bit of slasher television. With a touch of Twin Peaks, Harper’s Island really feels like one of those Giallo inspired, Eighties horror films like April Fools Day, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night yet expanded into thirteen delightfully suspenseful episodes. Even when many of the characters feel a bit one note early on, the beauty of this format allows for them to grow and become more than just fodder. Especially the second half of the season.

It all begins as Trish and Henry, an engaged couple go back to the bride to be’s hometown for an elaborate wedding. But whenever your hometown has a history of violence like this one has, you might want to rethink your plans. Because seven years ago, a psychopath named John Wakefield (Callum Keith Rennie) turned this beautiful island paradise into a nightmarish island of horrors. Including the murder of a teenage girl named Abby Mills’ (Elaine Cassidy) mother. Abby also happens to be Henry’s best friend, and begrudgingly joins the wedding party even though it is a difficult return home. After all, she witnessed the disturbing and horrifying work of John Wakefield which had been hung in a gruesome display. This real life horror show is what leads Abby‘s father, Sheriff Mills (the fantastic Jim Beaver) to send her off the island, forcing her to say goodbye to the one man she cared about, Jimmy Mance (C.J. Thomason). While this may sound like a lot of back story, it actually helps the fear factor quite a bit. After all, you’ve got thirteen weeks to tell what basically has been done in a feature film that runs ninety minutes long.

The glue that holds it all together is Elaine Cassidy. She has the ability to give Abby life. She is extremely warm and she works in whatever genre the show is playing for at the time. But it is not only Elaine that is strong here, much of the cast really make it worth visiting this island of death. Even one of the characters I disliked immensely early on grew on me, thanks to a strong show by Matt Barr as Sully. I was really rooting for the guy later on as the show progressed. This is a talented group of actors and they are all given a chance to shine a little bit. Especially notable aside from Cassidy, Barr and Rennie are the couple about to wed. Both Katie Cassidy and Christopher Gorham make for a charming couple, even when their relationship seems to linger in soap territory. And finally, I have to really single out both Chloe and Cal played respectively by Cameron Richardson and Adam Campbell. These two make for one of the most addictive couple on television.

This bit of horror, soap opera, mystery and comic relief is a satisfying little getaway that is best viewed on DVD. I think that these cliffhangers would’ve been too tough to wait for if I had been watching this on television. But this mystery is so addictive, that I’m sure I will be revisiting Harper’s Island again as I happily add it to my collection. And most importantly with your first viewing of the series, it manages to surprise with the outcome. I find it sometimes much too easy to guess the killer in this kind of horror film (or show) and while I figured out part of it, I was really surprised as the final episode “Sigh” wrapped things up nicely.
Video / Audio
Video: This 16:9 transfer is very impressive.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 and Surround is also terrific. The sights and sounds of this killer TV show is a treat.
The Extras
For once, the Special Features for a television series make it worth owning this four-disc set. Included in this are three Audio Commentaries. The first is for the pilot episode “Whap”, with the shows creators and producers Jeffrey Bell, Art Schlossberg and Dan Shotz. I really enjoyed hearing these fellas yap about the project and constantly tease about spoilers. But I would definitely wait until after viewing the entire series before listening to this.

The next commentary is for the episode “Sploosh” and it features co-executive producer Karim Zreik, and two of the actors Dean Chekvala (“J.D. Dunn”) and Matt Barr (“Sully“). As likable as these guys were, this is neither the funniest commentary, nor very informative. I think they should’ve added Mr. Shotz in as he seems really comfortable with this kind of thing.

And finally, the fourth disc contains two commentaries, one for “Splash” and one for “Sigh”. Splash features Shotz, the lovely Cameron Richardson and Matt Barr returning. This is a terrific listen - I’m telling ya, Shotz is good at this - the three of them together are informative yet they don’t take things too seriously.

As for “Sigh”, it features Shotz (again… thankfully), Jeffrey Bell returns along with Christopher Gorham. This is by far the most informative of the four, as the mystery is solved and they are able to talk freely about it. What can I say, I had fun.

And yes, there is more. If you want to see Deleted Scenes, you got ‘em. Disc 1, 2 and 4 each contain a couple. Usually this is not the most exciting feature as there are a ton of reasons the scenes are cut out. But here, there are a couple of great ones that work and are absolutely worth checking out.

There is also another mystery here, regarding a young woman named “Robin Matthews” who starts working at the fictional newspaper “Harper’s Globe”. This fun feature contains 19 Harper’s Globe Webisodes. There are quite a few with titles like “Who Can You Trust on Harper’s Island” or “The Killer Lurks on Harper’s Island”. Without giving too much away, this feature ties into the series slightly, but in many ways it is extremely creepy as there sick masked men are “uploading video” of people being tortured. Each of these webisodes run about five minutes or so and are worth looking at after watching the actual series.

You think that’s all? Not even close. There are a handful of futurities that include Casting Harper’s Island (20:10). This includes interviews with the producers and casting directors talking about the actors and how they auditioned. Especially interesting is the fact that Elaine Cassidy was cast quite literally from an audition tape, because she was in England at the time and they needed the main character right away. They found the right actress.

Next up is One by One: The Making of Harper’s Island (30:22). This is an episode guide that mostly details the murder set pieces that set the series apart from pretty much everything on television. I don’t think that the ratings were all that high for this series, but I would watch a hell of a lot more TV if shows like this were slaughtering prime time.

Finally, we have the cast members giving their thoughts as to who the killer is with Guess Who? (2:46) and a little feature explaining how the actors found out they were going to die throughout the series in The Grim Reaper (2:51). In other words, “Don’t Answer the Phone When Producers Call”. Both are fun little features.

Finally on the first disc, you can find a handful of CBS Network On-Air Promos. Some of these are pretty well done. I remember seeing a few of these, and not really tuning in… well, better late than never. They also offer a few previews for other series on DVD including “Dexter”, “Twin Peaks” and “Jericho”.
Last Call
I loved Harper’s Island. It feels like going back to some of the films I loved in the Eighties, for some reason, it especially felt like APRIL FOOL’S DAY and MY BLOODY VALENTINE being expanded to a thirteen week series. The casting is terrific and the kills are pretty damn great, especially considering that this was network television where you can’t do a damn thing without getting fined. I am thrilled to put this alongside my horror movie collection, because it fits right in… it just takes a little bit longer to watch. This easily ranks among my favorite television shows and happily, they made the choice to end it at thirteen and not try and beat it into the ground. Is it worth visiting Harper’s Island? I say, take the next boat immediately and join in on this over-the-top but fun as hell horror show.
ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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